Why I’m Changing the Covers & Titles of My First Two Books

The short answer is that as an indie author and entrepreneur I’m still learning, and that’s a good thing. The longer answer is that although I’ve had fantastic reviews I haven’t had much in the way of sales. It’s been frustrating, but in a way it was a good thing because it caused me to learn a very valuable lesson:

Tweet: In indie book marketing–your past books are never dead.

We all have our gripes about Amazon but one of the absolutely beautiful things about the mega sales site is that they allow you to tweek and change your product until you get it right. Unlike a retail store where once the product is on the shelf it will either sell or die, we have the opportunity to make changes then bring a book back to the market. Not only is this a product developer’s dream but it also allows those of us who are making tons of rookie mistakes to fix them.

I love the covers that I have right now. They are very cool, but they don’t work. When I worked with my first designer I just wanted a cool cover (and I got one), I didn’t understand that sometimes cool doesn’t translate for readers. What my covers didn’t do was announce that my books are romance novels. My titles didn’t help either. In my quest to be unique I uniqued myself out of what readers were looking for. Fortunately I met the amazing Whitney G. , a business-savvy indie author with a super-generous soul (and hella good writer, check out her books here). In a three hour meeting over coffee she opened my eyes to the problem. She straight out told me that if she were skimming Amazon, looking for a romance book, she wouldn’t know that either or mine were in that category or have a clue what they were about.

Now I could have gotten all offended and shut down in a huff. She was talking about my babies, my first two novels. But I want to be a successful writer more than I want to be seen as some creative genius. I have 100% faith in the stories inside the books but if I didn’t make some changes not many would ever get to read those stories. So, I’m working with a designer right now to create new covers. I’ve created new titles. I’m rewriting the blurbs and so much more. And I’m loving it. I’ve got renewed energy for the series. Half the fun of being a writer has been learning about the business side and this lesson is HUGE. Even if I had great covers, titles and blurbs they still might sell better with a new ad campaign or marketing technique. There is always an opportunity to grow and learn as an entrepreneur.

But to do that you have to be proactive–seek out other authors and ask questions about what is working for them. Listen to podcasts on the business of selling books (I highly recommend The Creative Penn). Study what the most successful in your genre are doing. Attend a writers conference that is focused on the business side of things. As I’ve noted before I had no clue I was opening a business when I hit publish on my first novel. That has made for a chaotic but still damned exciting start. I wouldn’t trade the roller coaster ride for anything. The longer I’m in it the more I feel like I’m in control of where I’m going.

How about you? Indie authors, how are your first books selling? Now that you’ve learned more about your market would you consider changing the covers? Titles? Marketing techniques? Share your stories in the comments so we can learn from each other. #PayItForward

 

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6 Things To Ask Yourself Before You Become The Chick in Charge

I’ve pointed out in the past that I pretty much had no idea what I was doing when I hit publish on my first book. I mean, I managed to get it up on Amazon but beyond that I was delusional, believing that books sell themselves, that all I had to do was bring my product to market and the rest would be riding the gravy train. (I’ll pause for a minute for all the authors out there to finish laughing.)

It didn’t take long to realize I had not only become a published writer but I had also unknowingly launched my own business; a business that exists in a market that I didn’t understand and requires skills that I did not have. If I had to do it over again I would because I’m actually really enjoying this process, but there’s definitely a few things I wish I would have thought through first.

Most of this occurred to me as I was reading Taylor Pearson’s article, “Why Product Market Fit is Overrated (and what to focus on instead).” In it he hit on several key points that I think a lot of women don’t factor in when they start a business, especially one with very low start up costs. It’s so easy to jump in the game that we often don’t exactly know what game we are jumping into.

Once my book was out there I started to look for blogs who might review it and I was shocked by the sheer number of self-published romance authors. Do you know your market? —the number of people in it and how those people were doing business? Most of us start with the idea stage, we’ve got a cool product, then skip the research and take the leap. In hindsight this is both good and bad. On one hand we don’t know what we are up against so we are more likely to take the leap, but not knowing can also make the first few years so much more frustrating. No matter what the business its always wiser to do the research first, not necessarily to squelch your dream but to give you a better idea of what will be involved in working in that field. Even for home franchise business (like selling makeup or kitchen goods at home parties), it’s good to know how many other vendors of the same line are in your area then look at their online presence.

I didn’t ask, is this business a good fit for my life? I’m a mom first, a job that I’m slowly being phased out of, but one I still hold at least part-time (sometimes full time). Running a business, especially in the first couple years can be time consuming. Everything is new to you. I’ve spent countless hours reading how-to books and articles and listening to podcasts so I can learn more about my business. So far I’ve made it fit, squeezing writing time in between driving my kids around and dealing with standard teenage issues, but there are times I’m cramming in a blog post or rushing to meet a deadline, burning the midnight oil to make it all work.

Another part of not knowing the business in advance was not asking what will I be doing on a daily basis? Being a self-published author is half writing but also half marketing, especially online. This is another area where ignorance may have worked in my favor because I’m not naturally drawn to social media. I’m much more of a lurker than a poster, preferring to see what everyone else is doing and keeping my own rather dull life out of the spotlight. That has changed. I still don’t take photos of my meals to post them but I’ve worked to steadily to remember to include others in my business life; what I’m working on or my latest passion (hello, Taylor Pearson and End of Jobs), generally sharing my journey (like this post!) It’s probably the hardest and most unexpected part of being an author for me.

Do I know my audience? It’s another important factor to consider when deciding if a business is right for you. Social media and marketing becomes so much easier if you know who you are trying to reach. You need to understand and relate to their problems if you are going to solve them with your product. As Taylor Pearson points out, one of his business ventures failed because despite the fact that it was a hot market he didn’t really understand the needs of the clients.

Equally important is, do I know at least ten people in the industry? The old saying, “it’s who you know” still holds true. It’s vital to be involved in your industry, even better if you do this before you hang your “open for business” sign. You are going to have millions of questions (not exaggerating here) and you will need several people to turn to for answers. Being connected also helps you to know industry changes, something that can change almost daily in self-publishing. It’s never too early (or too late) to get involved with industry groups.

The most concise and profound question from Taylor’s article is: “How do you want to spend the next four years of your life?” Because your answers to the questions above will show you what it will be like to spend the next couple years building a business. No matter how prepared you are there is a steep learning curve, and you will be deeply invested, emotionally and financially in making your business work. The more you know about it before you start the better.

One final note, while I now realize that I jumped blindly into my business and I’m paying the price, running to catch up, it’s never too late to ask these questions and in doing so improve your current outlook and knowledge. You will never get it all exactly right. Part of the fun (?) is learning and growing and challenging yourself.

So I’m asking any Chicks in Charge to share their story. How prepared were you to start your business? How has that affected your business? What do you wish you knew in advance? Share in the comments below so maybe we can help other women entrepreneurs learn from our mistakes–pay it forward.

 

Is 2016 The Year to Realize Delayed Dreams?

My oldest son is sixteen and he’s in the middle of the frustrating process where the whole world starts to ask him what he wants to do for the rest of his life. He has to start thinking about a career, so he can plan on a college, so he can plan his high school classes, etc. Like most kids his age he doesn’t want to think past the next comic con.

Through him I’m remembering that time in my life when I considered so many options then had to discard some as unreasonable, too expensive, out of reach. Each career path I considered spoke to some part of me; my creative side, my logical/planner side, my feminist side, etc. I eventually aimed in the direction of advertising and PR then wound up in special events and teaching. (Because face it, very few end up where they thought they would at sixteen.) But some of those dreams never died. The part of me they represent never got a moment to shine or at least step up to the plate and try. It’s those delayed dreams that I’m tapping into now as an entrepreneur.

Now, this point in time in history, is a unique time that is perfect for so many people to be able to keep their day job (or not) and try something new, something they’ve always wanted to do.

Writing novels is that for me, and I get to combine it with owning my own business, another path I’ve always been interested in. I met a woman today who had always thought being an editor would be great. She’s a librarian (a great job for a lover of words) but we talked about how she could easily do side work editing books for self-published writers. It was such a fun conversation. I loved seeing the wheels start spinning and the lights go on that long-forgotten dream. It was fantastic being the person who is already on the path getting to point it out to her.

So, what are your lost dreams? Did you write them off because in the past you had to open a brick and mortar store and start-up costs would be too high? Did someone tell you that you didn’t have the skills to compete in a particular market? Did you hear scary stories about how little creative people make and that you might end up living in a cardboard box if you take that career path? Well, the world has changed. You, my friend, and I are lucky enough to live in a time when anyone can open an online “store” and reach customers world-wide. You may not be an expert but you are still ahead of someone and they could seriously benefit from your knowledge. And creative work is still hard, but it’s easier to go around the gatekeepers and find your audience than ever before.

Next month I’m going to teach a series of classes on how to self-publish. Am I an industry leader? Hell, no. But I’ve been there and learned a lot of good lessons along the way. I’m green enough to remember what it’s like to be starting out with no clue what to do. Industry leaders are great but they can be so deep in an industry that their advice is too complicated for a beginner. It’s just another way that I’m following those dreams, going back to the what-if’s and exploring all the possibilities I saw when I was sixteen.

I got up out of my chair (and other acts of bravery)

I have to give credit where it is due. My title today refers to my favorite book title ever: She Got Up Off the Couch: And Other Heroic Acts from Moreland Indiana by Haven Kimmel. Not only is the title hysterical but it also reminds me that what might look like an everyday act to others might be a huge act of bravery for someone else.

I did one of those acts this weekend. I went to an author convention. That in itself is an act of bravery because you have to announce to the world that you consider yourself an author. Then I got really crazy–like way out of my comfort zone, felt-like-I-might-puke-while-I-did-it crazy. I got up out of my chair and passed out my homemade business cards to the other authors. It was one of those acts that looks like nothing to everyone else, but it was so much more.

I gave them to people who had made the NY Times and USA Today best seller lists. I gave them to writers who have been working in the industry for over twenty years and those who have published multiple books. I announced that I considered myself one of them. It was unnerving, but it was huge. I almost fell over in shock when one writer said she had read my books and liked them. Mind blown. 

It was at this convention that I finally wrapped my head around the idea that I have started my own business and that the product I’m selling is me. I realized its time for me to come out of my introvert cave, woman up, and truly jump into the arena. I’ll never grow as a writer or business owner if I keep trying to skirt the edges and only dip my toe in the shallow end.

I’m not exactly sure what this new, braver me is going to do with all my new-found marketing knowledge yet. I’m still sorting through the mountain of gems I gathered. But I’m excited. And I feel so much less alone! I made some wonderful connections–writers from my hometown, writers in my genre, writers in the same place I am in the publishing timeline, just writers in general who get the ups and downs of creating something then throwing out to the world to be loved and/or judged.

I’m flying home tomorrow and I’m already itching to get started on…something. I want to write and connect with readers and stay connected with other writers. I want to figure out my goals so I can reach them. I want to share this excitement and knowledge.

The name of the retreat was “Pay It Forward” and that is one of my goals. I’m so blessed to be part of an industry where we truly don’t compete with each other. A book sale for me does not equal one less for someone else. In fact it’s the opposite. It’s an industry that grows by referrals to each other.

I got up off my chair only a few hours ago but I already feel different. It was such a small act but it changed me. Once I crossed that line I couldn’t go back (and that’s a good thing.) I’m not the wallflower with a purse full of unused business cards anymore.